The turbulent nature of the current times have been weighing heavily on many people’s minds. Throughout our interconnected communities we have heard many people talk about struggling with the chaos and uncertainty present in our socio-political climate, and with the challenges of maintaining emotional and physical well-being. Social media sites are full of revolving comments about needing a mental health break as well as expressions of being overwhelmed.
The most recent reports from Charlottesville and North Korea seem to have increased what appears to be a sense of hopelessness, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, and depressive symptoms associated with concern over the state of America and the world.While frustration, anger, sadness, and fear are not new emotions experienced when there is a change in the socio-political climate, this now appears to be a trend associated with this distinct time in history and the increasing divisive nature of change happening in numerous arenas of our society.
Steven Stosney, PhD discusses the increase in stress experienced by people seeking mental health support in the Trump presidency era in his article “How to Cope With Trump Anxiety.” He states,”Our current environment, amplified by 24-hour news outlets and social media, has created a level of stress, nervousness, and resentment that has intruded into many people’s lives and intimate relationships, the likes of which I’ve not seen in nearly 30 years of clinical work.”
In his work, Stosney cites a Care Dash survey examining the anxiety in the age of Trump, which was first published in April 2017. Some of the key findings in the report, titled “Nervous Nation: An Inside Look at America’s Anxiety in the Age of Trump,” include:
- Nearly three-fourths (71%) of people 18-44 are at least somewhat anxious because of the November election results.
- Half (50%) of Americans are looking for ways to cope with the negative political environment.
- Over one-third (39%) of Americans are avoiding social media to reduce their anxiety around the political comments.
I found some of the data to be very reflective of how many people are relating to the world today.
In analyzing my own experiences and insights around what I need this year, I have decided to take a step back from social media and community circles as a means of self preservation, and to seek asylum from the chaos of society. The intensity of everything has meant seeking solitude and trying to find some peace in my isolation.
I have found that others within the Pagan community have mentioned similar coping strategies to restore a sense of personal balance and serenity. Considering the discussions of burnout to expressions of being overwhelmed that result in a “social media” break, it is quite evident that the umbrella of Neo-Paganism and polytheists are individually and collectively feeling the stress of our current societal over-culture. And like with many spiritual or religious people, extreme stress can push people toward or away from routines, practices, and spiritual activities.
Best practices in mental health modalities reinforce the importance of protective factors to balance and maintain mental health wellness during times of increased stress. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) website define risk and protective factors in the following ways
Risk factors are characteristics at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precede and are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes. Protective factors are characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes or that reduce a risk factor’s impact. Protective factors may be seen as positive countering events.
While protective factors may vary in addressing different types and levels of stressors, we know that it is important to continue the discussions associated with supporting positive outcomes in our individual and collective approaches to managing our needs.
It is also important to note that protective factors for many people include professional, therapeutic support to address clinical needs surrounding mental health. No single discussion or introduction of protective factors negate the need for professional services.
Spirituality, community, and religious activity are some of the most used protective factors in society. We often hear people refer to the power of prayer in times of distress and using that as a means of divine connection toword hope, purpose, and support.
Within the modern Pagan and polytheist communities there are often shared sentiments that involve personal devotional work, ritual workings, ancestor reverence, and prayer-like activities. We have also seen many people inside and outside of the Pagan community engage in activism as a means to engage in solution focused actions, another common and useful protective factor.
The article”Spirituality and Stress Relief: Make the Connection,” found on the Mayo Clinic website, lists the following as potential benefits of spiritual connectivity as a means of “stress relief and overall mental health.”
- Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
- Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you may feel — even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
- Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you may realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
- Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family, or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
- Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual may be better able to cope with stress and may experience health benefits.
The current climate and ongoing stress induced cycle of newsworthy events leads us to question what we are doing to increase our sense of well being. How are we engaging in activities that promote safe spaces and spiritual asylum from the continuous challenges of coping in today’s world?
Most of us are aware of some of the common techniques to support stress reduction and balance in one’s life. We commonly hear about mindfulness techniques, meditation, exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and prayer. I spoke about some of these coping strategies in a previous Wild Hunt article on Coping with Community.While many of those same techniques continue to be useful, what are some of the unique ways that we look for spiritual comfort in these times?
Because we are such a diverse collection of communities and of individual practitioners following many different paths, this particular conversation could expand into a myriad of directions and methods. I reached out to a three different people within our interconnected communities to engage them in a discussion regarding their own methods of addressing the need for comfort, balance and spiritual connection during these times.
Yvonne Conway, High Priestess and co-founder of United Pagans of Color, shared with me some of her own personal practice in connecting to a sense of comfort in these stressful times.
I will begin a mediation that starts with visualizing my own heart beating and sending forth radiating energy of love. I feel it surround me completely. From there I begin to visualize people in my most inner circle of connection such as my husband and family. The cats too! One at a time I visualize surrounding them in the same love that radiates from my heart.
Then I will expand my circle of individuals to others I’m friends with. One by one I will picture them surrounded in love. I’ll move further out to those I’m acquainted with. Then those I’ve just barely met in passing. Eventually I expand out to those I’ve never actually met, but perhaps passed on my way somewhere. Then further still to those I’ve never crossed paths with… essentially ensconcing every human in love. I continue with every animal, plant, insect, any and all living creatures. I do my best to visualize as much and as many being surrounded in my love. Once I feel I’ve expanded that radiating love to everyone I sit with it for a bit, or a while, depends on how I’m feeling, until I feel a deep resounding joy. Once I reach that point I begin the process to awaken.
This meditation can take me about half an hour to an hour depending on how I’m feeling as I’m going through it.
Courtney Weber, Author and Priestess, shared with me some of her most present thoughts about how she is working toward comfort despite most recent events that invoke anger, sadness and fear.
Today I felt angry. My hands shook all day even though I smiled. I hugged a seasoned warrior activist woman, herself exhausted. We both were, but she more than me. I snapped at the wrong people, even though for the right reasons. I distracted myself with stupid memes. I found myself more in my thoughts than in my world and I realized it when I saw I’d scanned and emailed myself a blank sheet of paper—absolutely nothing written on it, but I thought it was important.
I stopped. I closed my eyes. I asked myself, “What can I do right now?” I can’t undo the pain that’s been done to all others by the people in charge. I can’t re-freeze the glaciers or bring dead lions back to life or stop bullets shot at raised hands or wave my hands and watch Nazi evaporate. But there must be something I can do. I asked myself, “What can I do, right now?”
I can be kind to others…even when it would be easier to ignore them. I can read to a child…or take the time to thoroughly, thoughtfully, and honestly answer their questions. I can do something nice for a loved one…and expect nothing in return but respect. I can refuse to despair…just for today.
Today, I can do. And tomorrow, I will do tomorrow. But today, I will do today.
Shauna Aura Knight, Author and Artist, described her process of personal support by engaging herself in her art.
I paint to keep my mind-squirrels at bay. It reduces my anxiety. But what really inspires me is when someone uses one of my paintings for devotional work and tell me about how it helped them. I have one guy who bought one of my phoenix paintings, and he has fibro and often has flares where he can’t leave the house, but he uses one of my paintings to keep himself inspired when things get bad. The painting piece itself is a spiritual act for me, but then the person actually working with the art then circles back and is what brings me hope.
Utilizing methods of engagement that directly connect with our spiritual or religious core can be a useful strategy as we move into the what feels like an uncertain future of change and challenge. I have noticed that my own ability to connect with certain aspects of my practice have been hampered by my sincere lack of connection, resulting in a dusty justice altar and abandoned spiritual routines.With the continued looming social and political unrest, it is a perfect time to re-evaluate what activities increase a sense of grounding and awareness. It is also an opportunity for each of us to really invest in our own health and wellness by focusing on decreasing stress and increasing activities that reinforce spiritual, religious, or magical practices.
Here are a couple of ideas to consider in moving forward with increasing spiritually enhanced, stress reducing protective factors.
- Mindfulness activities have proven to be useful in increasing positive relief to current stress from internal and external triggers. The ability to participate in mindful breathing, nature walks, meditation, coloring, or painting can have great physical benefits of connecting with your body. It also supports positive connections with our inner core and increases personal insightfulness.
- Daily routine that supports connection with spiritual or religious practices. Mantras, daily prayers, ceremonial candle lighting to release stress from the day, ancestral honoring, focused energy work or protection workings can all be ways that this can be a productive means of connectivity. As with many protective factors, this isn’t just about big rituals that take a lot of energy or planning but more about the small routines we incorporate that create consistent and ongoing connection.
- Spend some extra time in nature. Schedule time to take walks, go for a hike, put your feet in the sand, and smell the fresh air. Time in the sun releases much needed pent up energy and increases much needed Vitamin D in our bodies. It is also an opportunity to ground and connect with the Gods while in the elements.
If there was ever a time in my generation where individual and societal pressure is at it’s highest, this might be it. It is a specific act of honoring the Gods or engaging our individual beliefs, when we take care of ourselves and care for our needs. I personally find that to be one of the most religiously important magical rituals we could perform.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.